Putin says Assange case is ‘political’

Thursday September 6, 2012

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the case of Julian Assange appears ‘political’, accusing Britain of double standards over the order to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to Sweden on sex crime charges.

Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuador embassy in London in a bid to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden, from where he fears he could be extradited on to the United States to face potential accusations of treason.

‘They (the British judiciary) decided to extradite him. What is this? Of course it is double standards, that is clear,’ Putin told state-controlled English language network Russia Today in an interview whose transcript was released by the Kremlin.

‘As far as I know, Ecuador asked Sweden for guarantees that Assange will not be extradited from Sweden to the United States. It has received no such guarantees.

‘Of course, this leads one to think that this is a political case,’ Putin said.

Putin added: ‘We are always being told about the independence of the judicial system in Britain – that it takes a decision and no one can influence it.’

The US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in late 2010 provided uncomfortable reading for Russian officials, notably a description of the country as a ‘mafia state’.

But Russian state media has warmed to Assange as an alternative-thinking anti-Western crusader and Russia Today earlier this year broadcast a series of interviews Assange recorded with controversial world figures.

These included the leader of the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah and the man who would later allow Assange sanctuary at the Ecuador embassy in London, Ecuador President Rafael Correa.

Giving credence to Putin’s comments, Assange’s lawyer said on Wednesday that US prosecutors were secretly preparing a case against the 41-year-old Australian.

Spain’s Baltazar Garzon, known for once pursuing Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet, said he was convinced that a ‘secret grand jury’ in the United States had launched an investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks.

He said he based this belief on statements made by people who have testified in the probe of US Army Private Bradley Manning for passing the trove of classified documents to WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing website.

‘The procedure (against Assange) exists. We are going to ask US authorities to tell us if they have launched a procedure against WikiLeaks that affects Julian Assange,’ Garzon told a meeting with foreign journalists in Madrid.

‘I can already tell you that they will not respond. It is true that there are no formal charges (in the United States) against Julian Assange but from my experience charges can be laid in just 24 hours.’

Garzon said Assange was not against going to Sweden to be questioned in the rape and sexual assault case but wants guarantees that he will not be extradited to the United States.

Quito is in talks with London over the fate of the WikiLeaks founder and Garzon said he could not rule out that Ecuador will take the dispute over Assange’s extradition to the International Court of Justice if the negotiations fail.


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